When I tell people I’m a professional organizer, they almost always ask, “is your house immaculate?”
In the early years of my career as a professional organizer, I dodged the question because I didn’t want others to think I wasn’t perfectly organized.
Over time I came to realize that there is no such thing.
When it comes to having a fulfilling, organized life, perfection will get in the way every time. I don’t want to be model of perfection. More importantly, I don’t want my clients to expect that of themselves.
Having a home that you enjoy, where you can spend time relaxing, enjoying time with family and friends, pursuing your interests and taking care of the business of your life, is far more important than having a perfectly organized life. There is no such thing. Life is messy.
The question about how organized I am in real life prompted me to think about other truths about my personal approach to organization.
So here are 13 confessions about me as professional organizer that may surprise you:
My house is not organized perfectly. It’s tidy and I can generally, though not always, find what I’m looking for. My home is not a Pinterest post or a cover of Architectural Digest. My style is to organize for my real life, not a fantasy life that I could never achieve let alone maintain.
I don’t have an opinion about what my clients keep, donate or toss. The only time I do care is when I see them make decisions that seem contrary to their goals. In that case I will ask their permission to gently point it out.
The papers I keep are contained in three places in my home. One is a small file box. Another is an old suitcase that belonged to my mother. The third is a single file drawer. My paper supplies are kept in a drawer and on a shelf.
I rarely scan anything. The only exception when I need to scan or upload a document to share.
If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist. I have no short term memory.
I can’t fold a fitted sheet like Martha Stewart. (Believe me I’ve tried dozens of times). However, I can make it tidy in a linen closet.
If it’s trash, I don’t feel bad about tossing it. I do my best to donate or recycle it but the world is not set up yet for zero waste and that’s not my fault. I appreciate sites such as Stopwaste.org when I want to recycle something less typical.
I don’t watch TV shows about organizing or hoarding.
Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t decant into containers. If you want everything in your kitchen, pantry or home to be labeled in pretty, matching ceramic containers, as organizers we are happy to do it.
We don’t have a garage. The previous owners of our home took it down to put in another room. We use it as a TV and exercise area. It has a large storage cabinet we use for holiday supplies, camping, memorabilia, sporting goods and games. Behind it is where I store all my supplies for work. My car is parked in a driveway.
I never liked the term “professional organizer.” Unfortunately they haven’t come up with anything better.
My team organizes better than I do but I know what works and I am great at managing projects, people and getting things done.
When I cook, my kitchen becomes a disaster. I am not an “organized cook.” I guess that’s because I’m focused on the food itself, not on the dish that didn’t get washed, the counter that didn’t get wiped or the container of cream that didn’t get put away. My husband is an incredibly organized cook.
Imagine sealing off an entire cabinet in your small kitchen to empty space!
That’s exactly what you do when you dedicate a cabinet to empty food storage containers. They are space-thieves! You know you need some but how many?
Here’s how to make more room in your kitchen and still have a supply of food storage containers for when you need them:
Start by matching bottoms to tops and tops to bottoms. At most, keep only enough to hold a week’s worth of leftovers.
Keep no more than will fit neatly into one cabinet shelf or one medium sized drawer when they are assembled! TIP: Don’t nest lids or bottoms unless they are all the same size.
Keep a supply of disposable food storage containers (tops and bottoms) in a less frequently used storage area to send family home with leftovers on holidays, like Thanksgiving. Store them with your holiday dishes or supplies.
Recycle any clean, dry plastic food storage container that has the numbers 1, 2, or 3 embedded in the plastic. Toss containers that are warped, stained, smelly, or broken.
If you still are uncomfortable tossing them there may be options for donating to your local community schools, churches, or shelters, but more restrictions are in place during COVID-19.
Has your husband, father or grandfather been meaning to organize the garage but just hasn’t had the time or the energy? Do you want to do something special for him this Father’s Day? Why not give him the gift of organization?
Garages are the last stand for what you own. If lucky, your car(s) share the space with everything you don’t have space for inside your home: old furniture, appliances, memorabilia, old tax records, never-hung art work, a ton of tools and gardening equipment not to mention Aunt Sadie’s light-up weather vane – the one she gave your Dad for Christmas eight years ago and he hates but is afraid she will ask about it when she visits (which she never does).
If your favorite “Dad” would much rather use the garage as a man cave, dreams about using it to actually park his car or you harbor a secret hope to turn it into a home gym, now is the perfect time to get the job done!
Cluttered garages (as well as attics, basements and sheds) are a tolerable problem until, the day you need to find something, find room for other things or worst of all decide to sell your home or have to move!
Selling a home is the number one reason people call me when they need to get their garage downsized. Unfortunately many people wait until it’s too late and end up making decisions that cost them dearly in the long run. Here are a few irreversible mistakes I’ve seen:
They paid movers thousands of dollars to transport items across country they never used again such as old refrigerators and furniture and then paid again to have them hauled
In a rush to move out they accidentally tossed out boxes containing valuable first edition books and other collectibles
They tried to do it alone and ended up having to undergo back surgery
One woman told me she was ashamed of what her in-laws would say if they saw her garage when they came to visit from out of town
Even if you are in excellent physical and mental condition, organizing and decluttering a garage can be very taxing on your body. Add to that, it’s time consuming to do it alone and takes away from things you’d much rather be doing! If you can no longer put off organizing your garage, here are some tips to get you started:
Decide what your goal is. Do you want enough room to park one or more cars? Storage for specific items? Areas for a tool bench, exercising or other hobby?
Determine if you have safe access. Observe whether or not there is safe access from the front to the back of the garage. If there is no access, or access is limited, consider getting or hiring help. You may need to create a pathway just enough to be able to observe and assess what your garage is storing.
Survey the garage carefully and with no judgment. Look at the contents in your garage and start noting down the categories of items you can see. For example: Old furniture, rugs, appliances, gardening equipment, boxes, art work, storage. Mark next to each category or item whether or not you plan to keep, sell/donate or want to “go through” before deciding.
Don’t start with paper. If you are on a tight deadline because of an impending move, defer going through boxes or file drawers of paper. This is because sorting through paper is extremely time and labor-intensive. You are better off just consolidating all the paper in banker boxes. This is especially true if you believe you have important documents or vital records mixed in with other types of recyclable paper, memorabilia or photographs.
Do a rough sort of boxes. If you have time and the room, do a rough sort of your boxes into categories such as “sentiments and memorabilia,” “china/glassware,” “books and magazines,” “photos and slides,” “confidential records,” “miscellaneous papers” that require further sorting.
Stop providing storage for your adult children. This is an area to stand firm. If your adult children are old enough to have apartments or homes of their own, they are old enough to take on their own stuff and memories. Give them a reasonable deadline, and send a reminder half way through. Let them know if they don’t make arrangements to remove their items by a certain day, then you have the right to disburse or dispose of their stuff as you see fit.
Consider hauling. If you know you don’t need to “go through” items to decide whether or not to keep, sell/donate or toss them, you may be able to simply call a licensed hauler or junk removal company. Point to what you don’t want and ask them to take it away. Keep in mind haulers are not organizers and they are not responsible for protecting you against fraud or identity theft and they won’t be able to give you the time to decide on individual items. They will only take what they can easily access. They will charge based on how much volume you have. In other words, how much of their truck your stuff takes up. This can run from a few hundred dollars up to thousands for more than one truck load. Get a couple of estimates. Most haulers will take the stuff away at the estimate if you agree with the cost.
Investigate charities in your area that do truck pick ups. Examples include local hospice organizations, church affiliated groups, local non-profits that hold large annual “White Elephant” sales or have brick and mortar shops, Salvation Army, Habitat for Humanity, and even haulers or estate clearout services that will consign items for you. Do a Google search for “charities that do truck pick up near me.”
Don’t wait, until it’s too late, to have your garage organized. Summers are often the busiest times for professional organizers, haulers and movers. Get estimates now and schedule your garage clear-out at least 2-3 weeks ahead of your preferred dates. Clients of mine thought they could do it themselves to save money and then a week before their move realized they couldn’t. Don’t make this mistake!
Hire a professional organizer to do it all for you. The only thing you do is decide what you want to keep and you can do this without lifting a finger or god-forbid, breaking your back!
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